I am currently in the midst of a major writing project that is different from anything I have written before. Historical fiction is not an easy genre to write. There are plenty of stories out there, like Harry Turtledove “How Few Remain” or Philip K. Dick “The Man on the High Castle” for example. These stories takes the world and turn it on end beyond what we know as history. It’s just science fiction but rather, as the term is coined, a historical fiction. These stories take one moment in history and with a simple turn of the switch, the world as we know it changed.
For example, in “How Few Remain” there was a moment in the Civil War where General Robert E. Lee sent out battle plans to his generals. One courier wrapped those plans around some cigars, but lost them enroute. These battle plans were found by a Union soldier and that gave them the edge over the Confederate general. This single moment in time changed the course of the war, in the eyes of the writer. That’s what it takes to create a good historical fiction… One moment in time changed and that brings about a new timeline. Doctor Who refers to this as a “fixed moment” in time, one that cannot change, like Rosa Parks refusing to get out of her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. By changing these moments in time, we can change the future. To that end, a writer of historical fiction must be a writer and a historian.
Granted, you don’t have to be a history major to write historical fiction, but you need to research the Hell out of it. My current #WIP is Corsair and the Sky Pirates. The story is based on one of those pivotal moments in history, a chance meeting between Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne. This is where my story begins, but I first had to research a simple question… Were Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla ever in France at the same time? That question was essential to my story, and the answer was yes. In 1887, Tesla was working for the Continental Edison Company in Paris, France. At that time, Jules Verne lived in Amiens, France, just north of Paris. There existed the possibility of that chance meeting, so as a writer of fantasy and science fiction, I made it happen.
From that meeting grew a story of a new world, a new industrial revolution started years earlier than expected. This would be a steampunk world where fragments of a meteor would power technology, built by Tesla from the imagination of Verne. Oh, what a wonderful world it would be, right? That is how a historical fiction begins.
Many books of this fashion focus on two distinct moments… The Civil War or World War II. Seeing a different outcomes to these monumental, worldwide clashes piques the curiosity of readers. We all look at the world and wonder what difference would be made at these pivotal moments, a world under Nazi rule or where slavery extended beyond the Civil War. These are evil times, easy to prophesize and lay out because evil has one goal… Power!
So, in my own historical fiction, I had that moment in history but I needed a villain. That was easy for me. As Tesla was my protagonist, the only choice for an antagonist was Thomas Edison. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Edison was an evil man. He was a genius, an inventor of the precursor of much of the technology we use today. But, he was also a capitalist, interested in making money. Like many corporations today, i.e. Apple, Google, Twitter and the likes, controlling the narrative means controlling the people in the world. That’s the villain I needed, corporations. When you move the industrial revolution forward, you’re automatically giving control over to the corporations that provide us with technology that makes our life easier, for a price. I wanted to represent our current addition to technology and bring it to bear in a steampunk, industrialized world. Edison was the perfect villain for my story.
That’s the beauty of writing historical fiction. You can change the world into something completely different. From turning Abraham Lincoln into a Marxist/Socialist (“How Few Remain”) to an alliance between Roosevelt, Churchill and Hitler to fight back an alien invasion (“Worldwar” series), it is an open book when writing historical fiction. The key is to base it in history. Where you go from there depends on the storyteller.
Research is the best thing for anyone writing historical fiction. I’ve learned more about the world at the turn of the century since I started writing this story. I learned about Jack Johnson, Geronimo, William Hearst, and more. From the people, to the countries, to the events, it is an open book… Better yet, an open world for any writer to explore. It’s the ability to create a world from one we all know, but make it new and make it different.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon fantasy book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides: Book 2 of the Forever Avalon Series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from iUniverse Publishing and at Amazon, and other booksellers. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is available for purchase as a paperback/ebook from Austin Macauley Publishing, and at Amazon and other booksellers.